Skip to content

Oppida raises the bar in online education

How to apply Universal Design for Learning principles with practical examples

Imagine a classroom where teachers adapt to diverse learning needs, instead of students conforming to a single teaching method. This approach is referred to as Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Stay tuned as we clearly explain Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and its three main principles. You will find practical advice for immediate application in your classrooms, along with specific examples for each principle, so you don't have to start from scratch.

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

UDL is an educational method that accommodates the distinct needs of learners, eliminating the need for students to adjust to a fixed teaching approach. It considers the teaching environment and methods as potential obstacles to effective learning, not the learners or their potential special needs.

The objective of UDL is to employ diverse teaching methods to eliminate learning barriers and provide equal success opportunities for all students. It emphasises flexible teaching methods that cater to individual students’ strengths and needs, benefiting all students.

In other words, UDL guides curricula designed to accommodate all learners, independent of ability, age, gender, or cultural and linguistic background, making an inclusive education.

Digital education agencies like Oppida align with UDL, offering learning solutions that address each student's unique needs and learning abilities, providing innovative solutions for any learning barriers.

universal design for learning udl

Universal Design for Learning principles: 3 key principles for UDL

As educators, we often need to create a curriculum for a diverse range of students. In reality, each student has unique learning needs and learning styles which can be supported by offering multiple learning formats, adaptable assessments, and organisational tools.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) offretebters teaching strategies and resources to accommodate varied learning needs, enhance the accessibility of learning opportunities, and boost student success.

Universal Design for Learning principles

Guidelines and aims

Multiple options for ENGAGEMENT

  • Foster interests
  • Sustain effort
  • Support self-regulation

Multiple options for PRESENTATION

  • Multiple perceptions
  • Optimised language
  • Effective comprehension

Multiple options for ACTION & EXPRESSION

  • Increase physical action
  • Stimulate communication
  • Develop executive functions

This framework consists of three guiding principles which are: student engagement, content representation, and expression. By implementing these principles, we can design flexible learning experiences with varied options.

1. Engagement - The “WHY” of learning

“Engagement” as the first principle of UDL suggests that various content options should be provided for learners to choose from since they have diverse learning needs. Content may work for one but may not work for others.

The goal is to foster sustained engagement from all students during the learning process. Since motivation varies among learners, multiple engagement options are crucial.

For example, while some learners thrive on spontaneity and novelty, others prefer routine and may feel overwhelmed by unexpected changes. Some might work best independently, while others perform better collaboratively.

In short, educators need to keep in mind that there’s no single engagement method that suits all learners in all contexts.

2. Representation - The “WHAT” of learning

The next UDL principle is “representation”. It advocates for diverse methods of content presentation to aid learners. This principle comes where educators should leverage various content formats, like text, visuals, audio, video, hands-on activities, peer-based learning, and many others.

Assistive technologies, such as screen readers, voice recognition programs, and closed captions, are key to this approach. This principle caters to all learners, including those with sensory or learning disabilities and those with language or cultural differences, by providing multiple ways to understand content.

3. Actions & expressions - The “HOW” of learning

The third UDL principle is "multiple means of action and expression." This encourages teachers to offer different ways for students to show their understanding.

For example, students with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy, cognitive challenges such as executive function disorders, or language barriers, will all approach learning tasks differently.

Some might excel in written communication but struggle with verbal, or the other way around. This principle typically includes options for physical actions, expressing thoughts, and improving executive function.

universal design for learning framework

Considerations for providing multiple means of engagement

The most essential part of the UDL framework is understanding the purpose or 'why' of learning as it fuels motivation amid challenges and encourages learners to continue learning.

However, this 'why' varies between individuals, making it a challenge to instil in a diverse classroom setting. Due to the differing abilities, backgrounds, interests, social skills, and self-regulation capabilities of students, a one-size-fits-all approach is ineffective.

Engaging students involves offering multiple opportunities for involvement, such as interactive activities, group discussions, and online forums. This caters to the different motivations students have toward learning.

When implementing such diverse engagement strategies, educators must tailor these initiatives to meet the unique abilities and capacities of students, as advised by the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principle of engagement.

Practical guidelines and examples of engagement in UDL

1. Capturing learner’s interest

Here are the practical ways to engage and attract learners:

Enhancing learner autonomy. This approach allows students the freedom to select their learning methods and achieve learning goals. For example, incorporating students in lesson planning could entail options like asking for feedback, independent reading, guided instruction from the teacher, or visual learning through videos.

Personalising lessons with students’s interests. To engage students, teachers should emphasise the practicality and significance of their lessons. For example, teaching concepts through role-playing adds authenticity and engagement. In online classrooms, sharing personal experiences on a certain topic through group discussions can make the lesson more relatable and valuable to the students.

Reducing distractions and threats. Eliminating distractions and threats is crucial in any learning environment as they significantly influence student focus and engagement.

2. Maintaining focus and persistence

Many kinds of learning, particularly the learning of skills and strategies, require sustained attention and effort. When motivated to do so, many learners can regulate their attention and affect to sustain the effort and concentration that such learning will require.

The following are ways by which you can sustain learners’ efforts throughout a learning process:

Enhance the visibility of goals. Use strategies to ensure the course's aims are clear and regularly reminded. One method includes involving students in defining a lesson's goals by asking them to write their expected outcomes at the end of a class or project, introducing scheduling tools, and including a self-assessment section in lesson plans and curricula.

Optimise challenges by adjusting demands and resources. To maintain learners' dedication, offer various ways to tackle challenges, ensuring everyone reaches their goals through diverse methods. You can modify the difficulty or complexity of core activities or focus on process, effort, and improvement instead of external evaluation and competition. As an educator, use real-world scenarios to evaluate learners, or allow them to select their assignments and projects.

Promote teamwork and community building. Peer mentoring can significantly amplify one-on-one support opportunities. Embrace flexible groupings, allowing better-differentiated roles and learning effectiveness with others. Establish cooperative learning groups with well-defined goals, roles, and responsibilities. Implement school-wide positive behaviour support programs with tailored goals and aids.

Improve constructive feedback. Teachers can motivate students to be persistent by highlighting the inherent skills that can help them reach their goals or boost their overall performance. Such feedback promotes improvement, resilience, and self-awareness.

3. Self regulation

While extrinsic environmental design plays a significant role in supporting motivation and engagement, it's equally crucial to enhance learners' intrinsic capabilities to manage their own emotions and motivations.

Self-regulation, or the strategic modulation of emotional reactions or states for effective coping and engagement, is a key aspect of human development.

Here are some strategies educators can use to assist learners in building emotional control for sustained focus in learning environments:

Boost motivation through positive expectations and beliefs. Educators can offer practical methods for students to manage and attain their goals. This can be done by supplying aids like prompts, reminders, guides, rubrics, and checklists that help identify personal goals, as well as providing mentors.

Foster personal coping skills and strategies. This involves educating students on how to independently manage life challenges, such as frustrations and phobias, particularly in learning environments. This can be done by:

  • incorporating "brain breaks" in class to allow time for processing information or emotions,
  • providing reading or study prompts that foresee potential difficulties, and prompting students to express their concerns,
  • integrating social-emotional learning into your teaching methods,
  • normalising stress responses related to tasks like public speaking or test-taking, and
  • addressing systemic issues that generate feelings of inadequacy.

Promote self-assessment and reflection. It can be highly motivating for learners to recognise their progress towards independence. Conversely, lack of motivation can stem from their inability to acknowledge progress. Supply tools such as aids or charts to help learners track, record, and display data from their behaviour to monitor changes. Provide activities that offer feedback and give access to various scaffolds like charts or templates.

Considerations for providing multiple means of representation

‘Multiple means of representation’ offers diverse ways for students to access and interact with course content and development. This principle intends to accommodate the variations in how individual learners perceive, understand, and process information.

universal design for learning strategies

Practical guidelines and example of representation in UDL

Here are some practical tips and examples to consider when offering various representation methods:

1. Perception

Learning requires perception. If instructional content is presented in a format that is incomprehensible to learners, perception and consequently, learning cannot occur.

To ensure that all learners can access the materials, educators should present the content in varied formats such as audio, visual, and textual modes. A practical implementation of this is through e-learning, where teaching videos or animations are supplemented with comprehensive diagrams, images, and text, tailored as needed for the learners' specific needs.

Additionally, the teaching materials should be adjustable, including features such as enlargable text and amplifiable sound.

2. Language and symbols

Mathematical symbols and non-literal expressions need explanation as students interpret them differently.

For example, certain vocabulary could help one student understand a concept, but confuse another. An equals sign (=) may illustrate the balancing of an equation for one student, but complicate it for another who doesn't understand its meaning.

Teachers can address these challenges by providing resources such as topic-specific glossaries, labeled charts and graphs, cheat sheets for symbols, dictionaries, and AI tools to help decode unfamiliar words.

3. Comprehension

The primary objective of education is not merely to provide information, but to instruct students on how to transform this information into practical knowledge.

This application of learning to real-world situations hinges on thorough comprehension. To foster this understanding among students, educators should connect new ideas to students' existing knowledge, illustrate concepts with relevant examples, and emphasise key texts, diagrams, and information.

It is also crucial to guide students in navigating and assimilating new information. This can be done by simplifying complex information, introducing new ideas gradually, and offering varied approaches and optional routes through content.

Considerations for providing multiple means of actions & expressions

When providing multiple means of action and expression, educators must acknowledge that students with disabilities may express their knowledge differently.

For example, students with significant movement impairments like cerebral palsy, those with executive function disorders affecting strategic and organisational abilities, or those with language barriers, have unique approaches to learning tasks.

Some may excel in written communication but struggle with speech, or vice versa.

Practical guidelines and examples of actions & expressions in UDL

This principle primarily emphasises educational innovations and the integration of educational technology at Oppida. Here are some practical examples of actions and expressions to follow:

1. Offering options for physical action

This allows for varied response methods, and streamlined accessibility to tools and assistive technologies, thus enabling students to actively participate in tasks, regardless of disabilities or preferences.

Using computers as innovative educational technology allows students to type responses rather than write. Alternatively, some may choose to use voice-activated keys/switches to communicate their knowledge.

2. Expression and communication

Enhancing students' learning experience involves offering varied pathways for expression and communication. This could include different study tools, methods, or ways to answer questions, such as using a video over text, or graphics instead of worksheets.

Integration of multimedia is not only endorsed but anticipated. Hence, lesson planning should encompass all potential modes for students to illustrate their comprehension of the subject matter.

This methodology is particularly beneficial for students with learning challenges like dyslexia, who may prefer narrating a story overwriting it.

3. Executive functions

Executive functions are the highest level of human capabilities, enabling us to set long-term goals, formulate effective strategies, monitor progress, and make necessary adjustments.

In essence, these functions empower learners to exploit their environment. Your role involves guiding students to set relevant goals, plan strategies, manage their information and resources, and monitor their progress.

Practical strategies to facilitate these processes include:

  • offering guides and checklists for goal-setting,
  • posting goals and objectives, and
  • schedules in a visible spot.

It is also recommended to embed prompts that encourage students to contemplate before acting and to justify their work. Providing consistent, formative feedback is vital, helping students to track their progress and effectively focus on areas for improvement.

Wrapping up… Benefits of incorporating UDL principles in teaching

universal design for learning in the classroom practical applications

In conclusion, the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) offer numerous benefits not only for students but also for teachers.

By moving away from a one-size-fits-all teaching approach, UDL allows teachers to cater to the unique needs of each student, boosting their confidence and efficiency. It leads to more effective classroom management, as it encourages creativity in addressing student needs, and reducing behavioural issues.

UDL removes the stigma associated with certain learning styles and encourages students to utilise their strengths in demonstrating an understanding of the material.

Thus, UDL adapts the material to the learner instead of the learner adapting to the material. It provides diverse ways for students to engage with the content, allowing for alternative methods of assessment beyond traditional tests.

Do you need more guidance in implementing UDL principles in your classrooms? Get a free consultation from Oppida, a digital education expert dedicated to crafting transformative learning experiences for schools.